Glass Remembered … The Gordons of Beldorney

We are most grateful to Jolyon Robinson who kindly provided us with the following information.

The Gordons of Beldorney

 The Gordons of Beldorney, despite the survival of their castle and estate and the presence in the North East of their descendants until the 1930s, are an obscure family. Most authors agree on the names and descent of the members of the family, but there is broad disagreement on dates. Some authors manage to contradict themselves in terms of dates of deaths and succession to the estate in short introductions to other aspects of Beldorney and many of the eighteenth and nineteenth century works on the family are also contradictory. Source material, such as the heir services lodged at the Sheriff Court in Aberdeen, often contradict all of this. In this short note it is attempted to give a short description of the family (Harry Gordon Slade in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Vol 105 for 1972 – 4 is comprehensive on the castle). It is hoped that the apparent vagueness about dates will be forgiven, but until decent proofs can be established, dating the time of some members of the family can be very difficult.

The family of Gordon have their origins in and take their name from the Borders, more specifically the lands of Gordon and Huntly in Berwickshire. The family moved to the North East of Scotland, with which they are more commonly associated, after the triumph of Robert Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence. Sir Adam Gordon of that Ilk changed his loyalties to the winning side late, but in time to gain considerable reward in the form of much of the land forfeited by David de Strathbogie, 10th Earl of Atholl. The de Strathbogies were forced south into England where their descendants are now the Lords Strabolgi (cr 1318) and the Gordons changed the name of the of the min centre of their lands to Hunly.

On Sir Adam’s death his eldest son inherited the lands in the North East and his younger son the lands in the Borders and South West. This junior branch went on to produce amongst others the “Young Lochinvar”.

The lands of Strathbogie passed through several generations of Gordons all called (to the confusion of researchers) Adam or John until 1394. In this year Sir John Gordon of Strathbogie died leaving two sons of doubtful legitimacy by Elizabeth Cruickshank of Aswanley. These to sons were John Gordon of Scurdargue and Thomas Gordon of Ruthven, better known as Jock and Tam, from whom many of the Gordon lairds of the North East, including those who are now Marquesses of Aberdeen, now descend.

Sir John was succeeded in Strathbogie by his brother Sir Adam, who died in 1402, leaving only a daughter, Elizabeth, who married Alexander Seton. He may or may not have been created Lord Gordon some time between 1429 and 1437. They had two sons and a daughter. The eldest son was to become the first Earl of Huntly and the younger to be the ancestor of many of the Seton lairds in the North East.

The first Earl of Huntly married twice, first to Egidia Hay of Tillybody and later to Elizabeth Crichton, daughter of Lord Crichton. The children of the first marriage were cut out of inheritance of the Earldom when it was created and took the surname of Seton, moving south to Stirlingshire. The children of the second marriage took the surname Gordon and remained in the North East.

The elder son of the second marriage was George, 2nd Earl of Huntly, from who descend the present Marquesses of Huntly, the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon and the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. The second son, Sir Alexander, was the ancestor of the Abergeldie Gordons and their cadets and the youngest, Adam, ancestor of the Beldorney Gordons.

Adam Gordon (bef 1470 – 1528) was Dean of Caithness, but he had four acknowledged children by an illegitimate daughter of “Chancellor Crichton”, possibly Marriota Duffus, although she is elsewhere called Elizabeth. He and Mariotta/Elizabeth were thus probably first cousins, though it is uncertain as to which Lord Crichton was actually her father.

The four children were George Gordon of Beldorney, John Gordon, who remained in the North East and was ancestor of the Gordon Baronets of Embo (cr 1631, dormant 1956), William Gordon , Chancellor of Dunkeld and a daughter who married firstly Alexander Ogilvie of Deskford and later married Sir John Gordon, son of the 4th Earl of Huntly. The daughter is of considerable importance to the Beldorney story, since it is through her that her eldest brother gained the Beldorney estate.

Beldorney was originally part of the Barony of Kethmor, which was centred on Auchindoun. This Barony had belonged to the Lords Drummond, but in 1490 it was acquired by Sir James Ogilvie of Deskford. Fifty five years later, in 1545, Alexander Ogilvie was to give it to his brother in law, George Gordon, thus starting a line of Gordons who were to remain there until the end of the eighteenth century.

Alexander Ogilivie of Deskford was to give away almost all of his property to various Gordons, cutting out his children from the inheritance of Deskford and Findlater and settling his estates on his wife, who presented them to her second husband. These actions were to lead to a long running court battle between the disinherited Ogilivies and the Gordons, eventually settled in favour of the former. It also led to an Ogilivie/Gordon feud which was still showing signs of life in the 1640s.

George Gordon (bef 1528-1575), the first laird, is best known for the comment in the Balbithan MS that he “builded Beldorney then dyed”. The building of the castle can thus be put sometime between 1545 and his death in 1575. The wording of the Balbithn MS is memorable, but cannot definitely be said to place the building period at the end of this broad timespan. Three years can however be ruled out; those are the years 1562-5, since during this period, after the battle of Corrachie, the estate was forfeit. George Gordon presided over the lands of the family when at their greatest extent. It can be said to have been all downhill (certainly for the original line) after him. As well as holding Beldorney he was Constable of Ruthven in Badenoch and held the Barony of Rothiemurchus and the lands of Wester Foulis and Easter Leochel in Cushnie. Rothiemurchus was first to go, sold by him in 1561 to Grant of Feuchie. George Gordon married Janet Rose of the Kilravock family. He had one son and two daughters. The son, Alexander, inherited Beldorney, whilst the elder daughter married Robert Leslie of Kininvie and the younger daughter John Gordon of Buckie.

From this time onwards the dating of the family becomes difficult.

Alexander Gordon, 2nd of Beldorney, married Margaret Grant of Freuchie, now Castle Grant, daughter of John Grant, 4th of Freuchie and chief of the Grants. They had three sons and three daughters. The eldest son, George, succeeded to Beldorney, the second son, Alexander of Killyhuntly, was ancestor of the eighteenth century lairds of Beldorney. The youngest son, Adam, was styled “of Glenrinnes”. Of the daughters, the eldest Margaret, married Calder of Aswanley, the second married Gordon of Farnachty and the third a Grant “in Tulloch”. Alexander Gordon died either about 1607 in late middle age or in 1627 by which time he would probably have been well over seventy. The lands in Cushnie were sold in 1607.

George Gordon 3rd of Beldorney, married Isobel Gordon of Newton, whose family descended from “Jock”. As far as can be ascertained they had only one son, George, who succeeded as 4th laird. George Gordon 3rd of Beldorney may have died about 1627, but this is not certain. The main problem is that both he and his son were called George and in the heir service of 1627 the name of the father, from whom George Gordon inherited, is not given. This leads to the further possibility that he may not have died until 1638.

George Gordon 4th of Beldorney married a daughter of John Lyon of Muiresk. The Lyons were newcomers to the area, being a branch of the Glamis family who had acquired Muiresk after the forfeiture and execution of Thomas Dempster of Auchterless in 1620. The Lyons appear to have been rich, greedy and unpopular with many of the older established, but more impoverished families of the area, acquiring several other estates, including Craigston. In fact due to the impoverishment of the Beldorney Gordons, John Lyon was one of the wadsetters of Beldorney from 1627 till his murder (in which John Gordon 5th of Beldorney was implicated) in 1667. George Gordon appears to have had one son, John, and to have died either sometime between 1640 and 1645 or before 1664 or possibly not until 1678.

John Gordon 5th of Beldorney was married to Anna Gordon of Cairnborrow, relict of Gordon of Tiphoudie. When he inherited is uncertain; there was an heir service to Beldorney on 26th February 1647 in which “______ Gordon de Beldornie” is described as “est fatuus et naturaliter idiota”. If George Gordon 4th of Beldorney died in 1645, then this might be the heir service of John Gordon 5th of Beldorney, but the lack of a first name makes this impossible to determine. During this time the finances of the familycertainly appear to have got worse and though they appear to have remained in possession of the castle building, there is every possibility that it was as the tenants of the wadsetters rather than as owners. John and Anna Gordon had at least one son, another John, who appears to have inherited the estate (or whatever was left of it) in 1685, though according to some sources he did not die until 1694.

One of the two John Gordons 5th or 6th of Beldorney appears to have been more financially astute than previous members of the family, being a Commissioner of Supply for Banffshire before 1664 and an Honorary Burgess of Aberdeen. He appears to have been able to gain repossession of the castle and to have built the courtyard sometime around 1679-89, though in a later contradiction, Harry Gordon Slade, who attributes the seventeenth century work to John Gordon also reckoned that from 1679 – 1700, possibly until his death in 1713, the property (estate but maybe not the castle) was in the hands of the 3rd Lord Banff.

John Gordon 6th of Beldorney died shortly after the latest possible date for the death of his father in 1698 leaving a young son who appears to have been brought up abroad by his uncles or other close Gordon relatives. With this son, of whom little is known, the traceable original family and their possession of Beldorney, ends.

During the seventeenth century however the Beldorney Gordons appear to have got into more than mere financial difficulty. There appear to have been two or three murders of the original line well embroiled in the Thirty Years and the Civil war and these disturbances make tracing them difficult. One obvious and traceable member of the Beldorney family at this time was James “the soldier” Gordon. He first appears as a soldier in the French service in the 1620s and after capture bt the Spanish and imprisonment for seven years, returned to Scotland and took considerable part in the Gordon revenge after the fire of Frendracht and in the civil war. His exact relationship to the Beldorney family is unknown. Spalding describes him as “of Beldorney” and the book of the Gordons reveals that his descendants had him as either a son of George Gordon 1st of Beldorney (which surely makes him too old to have been active in the 1640s, or a son of John Gordon 5th of Beldorney, which appears to make him too young to have been active in the 1620s). There is also the suspicion that Patrick “Steelhand” Gordon may have been related to the Beldorney family.

What is known is that at some point in the seventeenth century much or all of the Beldorney Gordon debts were bought up by Alexander Gordon of Tirriesoule or Camdoll, who between 1700 and 1713 got possession. Alexander Gordon was a great grandson of Alexander 2nd of Beldorney. Not much is known as yet about Alexander Gordon, except that he died in 1730 and was succeeded by his son James, who bought Kildrummy in 1731.

James Gordon 9th of Beldorney married a distant Gordon cousin, Mary Gordon of Law and Wardhouse and they had six sons. Of these sons, John the eldest, inherited Beldorney and Arthur, the fourth, went to Cadiz and this started the family connection with Spain and the Sherry trade. James Gordon died in 1740 and was succeeded by his son John.

Beldorney was always a Catholic House and this continued for the whole period of Gordon possession. In this respect John Gordon 10th of Beldorney is perhaps the best known member of the family. He inherited the property at the age of 17 and died when only 37, but the years 1740 -1760 were eventful times in Scottish history.

Unlike his father and grandfather who appear to have kept their heads pretty well down during the “15” and “45”, John Gordon was an ultra-Jacobite and spent much of his remaining years afterwards in (fairly high profile) hiding. He remained at Beldorney or Kildrummy, or nearby, and everyone knew this, but he was not at home to those coming to arrest him and may have spent some time in the Beldorney secret room. While this has given him a romantic reputation, the fact that the Government neither forfeited the estate nor made any more than a half-hearted effort to capture him, suggests that he was a little fish in the Jacobite pool as far as they were concerned, despite his fiery temper and romantic image.

John Gordon married Margaret Smyth of Methven, a great granddaughter of the famous Gordon General and friend of Peter the Great, Patrick Gordon of Auchleuchries. They had nine children, three sons and six daughters.

Alexander Maria Gordon, the eleventh laird of Beldorney, had as fiery a temper as his father and a much shorter and more tragic life. The situation at Beldorney in his childhood with his father in hiding meant that according to one contemporary he was “dragged rather than brought up” and there is every evidence that he was rebellious and pretty rowdy. He had left Beldorney by the summer of 1766 and (at least for appearances sake) renounced Catholicism. In June of that year he joined the 49th Foot (now 1st Bn Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal regiment (Berkshire & Wiltshire) ). He did not last long with the 49th since he was involved in a street brawl in Cork which led to the death of a butcher and he decided to leave Britain, possibly with the army or Irish authorites on his trail. Moving to France, he became involved with Lord Harcourt, the British Ambassador, who encouraged him to visit the French Naval base at La Rochelle. Here he was arrested, on fairly flimsy charges of espionage, and executed as a spy in 1769. Lord Harcourt had dropped him like a hot coal when he was arrested.

Alexander Maria Gordon had inherited Wardhouse as well as Beldorney. The latter passed to the Beldorney Gordons after the extinction of the senior line of the Law and Wardhouse Gordons, but it seems likely that he never enjoyed full possession of either, since he was still a minor when executed.

Alexander Maria Gordon was succeeded by his younger brother Charles Edward, who became laird of Beldorney, Kildrummy and Wardhouse. The youngest brother moved to Spain to join his uncle Arthur. Charles Edward lived up to his Jacobite name in his early years in the he married Charlotte Boyd, daughter of Hon. Charles Boyd, brother of the 15th Earl of Erroll. Hers was the ultimate Jacobite family (in terms of losses anyway). W

Were it not for her forbears’ support of the White Cockade, in both the “15” and “45”, her uncle would have been Earl of Erroll, Linlithgow & Kilmarnock and heir to the lands of Livingstone, Callendars, Boyds and Hays. All of these except the very ancient, but comparatively poor Earldom of Erroll were lost. Charles Edward Gordon and Charlotte Boyd had three children, one son and two daughters, but Charlotte died in 1778 after only five years of marriage, possibly as a result of complications in the birth of the younger daughter.

The death of his wife seems to have led to a sea change in Charles Edward Gordon’s life. In 1781 he remarried to Catherine Mercer, daughter of a military family, rising to be Paymaster of the 2nd Btn The Royal Scots. They had seven children before a rather messy divorce in 1797.

The two sets of children also had totally different careers. The children of Charlotte Boyd went, or possibly were sent, to Spain to join their cousins and in the main stayed there. One daughter of this family did marry in Scotland and to a laird of Jacobite sympathies. The children of the second marriage were brought up as Anglicans and the sons pursued military careers in the main; one became Admiral of The Fleet Sir James Gordon, another was Colonel Charles Edward Gordon, one of whose sons went on to be a General and Colonel of the Gordon Highlanders.

Charles Edward Gordon of Beldorney was possessor of three estates, all with houses, and he put Beldorney on the market in 1775, though it was not sold until 1807. The money realised probably helped to build his new house at Wardhouse, which during his lifetime, was called Gordon Hall. This ended the Gordon connection with Beldorney, though the Spanish branch of the family, later Counts of Mirasol, remained in possession of Wardhouse until the 1930s and entertained King Alfonso XIII and Queen Ena of Spain there during the royal honeymoon in North East Scotland.

In 1807 Beldorney was sold to Thomas Buchan of Auchmacoy. He sold it on fairly quickly to Sir William Grant. The Grants, though they came from Aberlour, were thoroughly anglicised and did not use Beldorney as their main residence. They were also responsible for some thoroughly unsympathetic “restoration” by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie in the 1890s. The last of the Grants sold the property in 1919 to Sir Thomas Birkett, whose nephew, John Birkett, sold it in 1960 to Commander Vivian Robinson RN. Vivian Robinson’s son, Jolyon Robinson, and his wife Sheelagh, carried out a complete restoration of the original building between the years 1982 to 1988. Beldorney was sold in 2014 to the present owner.

2 thoughts on “Glass Remembered … The Gordons of Beldorney

  1. Glass Community Association Post author

    From Jolyon Robinson – author of the above:

    Many thanks for sharing this helpful and considerate comment with me. Anything which improves and enhances information about Beldorney and the Gordons is always worth having.

  2. Glass Community Association Post author

    Gareth Arscott has kindly provided this comment on the article above.

    Whilst hunting for additional information on my family – The Boyds, I came across your article, detailed above. I need to remark on one section:

    “Alexander Maria Gordon was succeeded by his younger brother Charles Edward, who became laird of Beldorney, Kildrummy and Wardhouse. The youngest brother moved to Spain to join his uncle Arthur. Charles Edward lived up to his Jacobite name in his early years in the he married Charlotte Boyd, daughter of Hon. Charles Boyd, brother of the 15th Earl of Erroll. Hers was the ultimate Jacobite family (in terms of losses anyway). Were it not for her forbears’ support of the White Cockade, in both the “15” and “45”, her uncle would have been Earl of Erroll, Linlithgow & Kilmarnock and heir to the lands of Livingstone, Callendars, Boyds and Hays. All of these except the very ancient, but comparatively poor Earldom of Erroll were lost. Charles Edward Gordon and Charlotte Boyd had three children, one son and two daughters, but Charlotte died in 1778 after only five years of marriage, possibly as a result of complications in the birth of the younger daughter.”

    All accounts that I have read detail that William Boyd 4th Earl of Kilmarnock was on the Royalist side during the first Jacobite rebellion, that he was never an ardent Jacobite at any time and that (although he denied it shortly before his death) he was persuaded by his wife and wife’s aunt to side with the Prince. To suggest that they were a Jacobite family is not correct, although Charles was undoubtedly Jacobite, James fought for the King at Culloden and William was serving in the English navy at the time. The Earl was beheaded in London and land confiscated, although re-instated later.

    Please accept this as comment and not criticism. Your site is exceptional and I wish you all the best.

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